It’s time to get savvy about cybercrime and fraud
Cybercrime and financial fraud are pretty heavy subjects. This type of crime can cause misery, shame and financial ruin for victims, some of whom never have their losses reimbursed. Thankfully, more and more of us are aware of financial fraud in all its forms and are better equipped to protect ourselves from cybercrime. However, as the Met Police’s recent Operation Elaborate initiative illustrated, fraudsters are constantly upping their game and it’s up to all of us to get savvy and protect ourselves from this ever-evolving threat.
What’s Operation Elaborate?
Operation Elaborate is the name given to a Met Police initiative, which has helped to shut down a website called iSpoof.com, which was being used by fraudsters to scam consumers over the phone.
Criminals were paying fees to iSpoof, via Bitcoin, to enable them to call consumers from numbers that appeared to belong to well-known financial institutions, including Barclays, Santander, HSBC, Lloyds, Halifax, First Direct, Natwest, Nationwide and TSB. Around 100,000 people in the UK fell victim to this fraud over a period of 20 months. iSpoof has now been shut down and a large number of suspects have been arrested.
Detective Superintendent Helen Rance, who leads cybercrime for the Met, said: “By takingdown iSpoof we have prevented further offences and stopped fraudsters from targeting future victims.
“Our message to criminals who have used this website is we have your details and are working hard to locate you, regardless of where you are.”
So although the message to fraudsters using these tactics is clear, what is the latest advice to consumers to protect themselves from cybercrime and financial fraud in the future?
Never trust unsolicited calls or emails asking for your details
This is, perhaps, the most important single piece of advice you can follow. Sometimes, as consumers, we can be way too polite. Most people don’t want to be confrontational - even when on the receiving end of an unsolicited call from a bank. But it’s important to remember, anyone working for a legitimate financial organisation won't bat an eyelid if you ask for further verification before you give out your details. In fact, they shouldn't ever ask for your account details or personal information without providing proof that they are who they say they are.
If your bank, HMRC, your online lender, or anyone else calls you and asks you for your information, tell them you’ll call the business yourself and give these details over once you’ve verified that the request is legitimate.
Treat links in emails with caution
Phishing emails are a common form of consumer fraud, as most of us know. These emails appear to be from banks and other financial institutions and ask you to confirm your account details, card details or other personal information. This is often via a clickable link that takes you through to a page asking you to insert your details. Again, this will often appear to be genuinely from your bank. Watch out for this type of fraud and always stop to question the source of an email if it’s asking you to confirm your account information, as genuine consumer emails from financial institutions won’t do this.
Make sure you’re aware of the latest scams
Scammers like to take advantage of consumer vulnerabilities. This means they’ll target consumers where they feel the most vulnerable. Examples include emails or calls that offer discounts on energy bills, phishing campaigns that claim to have an undelivered parcel for you to collect or Covid scams that claim that you’ve been in proximity to someone with Covid.
These scams are ruthless and prey on those who may have their guard down due to vulnerability. As a consumer, you can keep abreast of the latest scams here.
Get smart with your passwords
Researchers at Lastpass found that half of all internet users use the same password for all their log-ins. But it’s never been easier to generate and store passwords securely on your devices and doing so can go a long way to protecting you against hacks and data breaches. Opting into multi-factor authentication is another recommended way to protect your accounts, while long passwords are even better than complex ones when it comes to security.
Keep your software updated
Many of the updates happening behind the scenes on the software you use every day is helping to protect users against cybercrime and fraud. Developers are working tirelessly to make their software more robust and protect data, but they rely on you to actually update to the latest versions when they are available.
Fraudsters will always look for a weak spot, and this applies to software. So turn on automatic updates and minimise your chances of being targeted.
Cybercrime and financial fraud isn’t going away, but the best defence you, as a consumer, can have against these criminals is to keep up to date on their latest tactics. There are even online tools such as this one from Citizens Advice that help you to check whether something that seems suspicious is a scam or not. So there’s really never any reason to take a risk if an email or call just doesn't seem right. And even if a request for your account details doesn’t seem suspicious, why not check anyway?
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